Bill Will Make Latest Communications and Video Technologies More Accessible to Americans with Disabilities

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Representative Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.), author of the 21st Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act (H.R. 3101), today issued the following statement after the bill passed the House of Representatives by a vote of 348 to 23.  In the Senate, a related bill, S.3304, the Equal Access to 21st Century Communications Act, has been introduced by Senator Mark Pryor (D-AR) and reported out by the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation.

 “Whether it’s a Braille reader or a broadband connection, access to technology is not a political issue – it’s a participation issue,” said Markey. “Two decades ago, Americans with disabilities couldn’t get around if buildings weren’t wheelchair accessible; today it’s about being Web accessible. The ADA mandated physical ramps into buildings. Today, individuals with disabilities need online ramps to the Internet so they can get to the Web from wherever they happen to be.

“Passage of this bill is a landmark achievement in the fight for equal access to technology for all Americans. From the time of Helen Keller and Annie Sullivan - through the Americans with Disabilities Act - to closed captioning for television programming and ability of the deaf to make telephone calls – and now to the 21st Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act, we’ve made important progress.

“We’ve moved from Braille to Broadcast, from Broadband to the Blackberry. We’ve moved from spelling letters in someone’s palm to the Palm Pilot.  And we must make all of these devices accessible.”

Markey’s bill significantly increases accessibility for Americans with disabilities to the indispensable telecommunications and video technology tools of the 21st century by:

-Making access to the Web easier through improved user interfaces for smart phones

-Enabling Americans who are blind to enjoy TV more fully through audible descriptions of the on-screen action

-Making cable TV program guides and selection menus accessible to people with vision loss

-Providing Americans who are deaf the ability to watch new TV programs online with the captions included

-Mandating that remote controls have a button or similar mechanism to easily access the closed captioning on broadcast and pay TV

-Requiring that telecom equipment used to make calls over the Internet is compatible with hearing aids

-For low-income Americans who are deaf-blind, providing a share of a total $10 million per year to purchase accessible Internet access and telecom services so these individuals can more fully participate in society

New technologies and services are neither intrinsically good nor bad.  They’re only good when we animate them with the human values that reflect the best of what we are as a society:  opportunity, independence, and equal access for all. 

“These are timeless American values as relevant today as they were when Annie Sullivan and Helen Keller were working together. This bill will increase access for Americans with disabilities to the technological tools needed to succeed in today’s interconnected world.  I look forward to continuing to work for its passage in Congress and its enactment by President Obama,” Rep. Markey concluded. 

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